Archive for February, 2019

Odette the Chatbot Welcomes You!

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

Ostende: The largest city on the Belgian coast (itself only about 66.5 km long), quite historic. But that location offers a mixed bag: Through the ages the city has usually made good money as a port during peacetime, but inevitably has been a target during war. These days it’s known mainly as a beach-destination, with a famed esplanade (sea-front) and even a preserved section of the WWII Atlantic Wall.

Now Ostende has planted itself firmly in the 21st century, as La Dernière Heure reports:

“Chatbots”: yeah, it’s what you think. The local tourism authority there has taken the AI plunge, although only for Facebook Messenger. Seems lately the people working there have been swamped with information-requests via that particular medium, according to tourist authority chief Peter Craeymeersch (great Flemish name!). So they combined some funds with some programmers to take the obvious next step.

The main chatbot – answers to the name “Odette” – is said to be able to respond to most any questions you might have about how to entertain yourself there. The only other one (so far) has no name, but only functions to impart the same sort of information about Ostende’s yearly art festival, The Crystal Ship.

For now, you’ll have to pose your questions in Dutch. By next Fall the bots will also be capable in English – but French? Belgium’s second official language (out of three)? No word on that, and this might be the most “Belgian” aspect of all here.

And could I ask a favor? Could someone ask Odette’s twin-bot just when that “Crystal Ship” festival is supposed to happen in 2019? The dedicated website somehow manages to say nothing about any 2019 date! Perhaps that is very Belgian as well!

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